Council Reps to de Blasio: Stop the E-Bike Crackdown and Talk to Workers About New Rules

Advocates say City Hall’s attempt to clarify e-bike regulations won’t help most delivery workers, who were not consulted on the proposed rule change.

Council members Carlos Menchaca and Margaret Chin (background right) with delivery worker advocates at City Hall yesterday. Photo: Brad Aaron
Council members Carlos Menchaca and Margaret Chin (background right) with delivery worker advocates at City Hall yesterday. Photo: Brad Aaron

City Council members yesterday called on Mayor de Blasio to cease his crackdown on delivery workers while the city clarifies its rules on electric bikes.

On orders from the mayor, NYPD is targeting working cyclists who are on the job. Acting on a flaw in state law that makes e-bikes legal to own but illegal to ride, cops are issuing hefty fines to delivery workers and confiscating their bikes, threatening their ability to make a living.

The city has no data showing that e-bike riders pose a serious public safety threat. Rather, de Blasio unleashed the police on delivery workers based on a complaint he fielded from a WNYC listener.

Facing blowback from the crackdown, in April City Hall announced a DOT rule change that would legalize pedal-assist bikes, which engage the bike’s electric motor while the rider pedals.

But according to council members and advocates who rallied outside City Hall Monday afternoon, most delivery cyclists use “combination bikes,” which can be operated by pedal-assist or by using the throttle alone, though the top speed for either method of acceleration is the same. Even with the DOT rule change as proposed, advocates said, the majority of delivery workers would still be subject to fines and bike seizures.

The mayor’s crackdown “goes against everything our city represents as a haven for immigrants,” said Lower Manhattan council rep Margaret Chin. Chin said delivery cyclists are afraid to go to work, fearing their bikes will be taken or they will be arrested. “Hard working immigrants should not have to work every day in fear just for doing their jobs,” she said.

The city must come up with a fair solution to the e-bike issue, Chin said, because Albany can’t be counted on to clear up the law.

Chin was joined by fellow Council Member Carlos Menchaca and representatives from Transportation Alternatives, the Asian American Federation, Make the Road New York, and the Biking Public Project.

According to everyone I spoke to and heard from yesterday, City Hall did not consult delivery workers when formulating the proposed rule change.

The Biking Public Project’s Helen Ho outlined five steps council members and advocates want City Hall to take: issue a moratorium on e-bike enforcement; establish regulations to allow workers to convert throttle e-bikes to pedal-assist bikes; establish a financial aid program to help with conversions; educate the public, workers, and police on e-bike regulations; and begin recording and publishing data on e-bike crashes, which the city currently does not track.

“A moratorium allows us to push the pause button and get this right,” said Menchaca, who chairs the council’s immigration committee.

Clemente Martinez, who has done delivery work for 14 years, said workers need e-bikes because they survive on tips — the more deliveries completed per shift, the more money they make. Also, he noted, customers expect fast service.

“I’ve been criminalized for using my electric bicycle,” Martinez said through an interpreter. “I’ve been given fees and fines just for doing my job. The city needs to figure out a way for us to use the bicycles we’ve already invested in.”

Many workers who use throttle e-bikes are middle-aged or older. To rack up enough deliveries to earn an average wage of $10 an hour, Ho said, older delivery cyclists need e-bikes, and can’t afford to have them confiscated.

Persephone Tan of the Asian American Federation said City Hall’s rule change announcement left workers unsure of what bikes would be allowed. Tan criticized de Blasio for failing to engage delivery cyclists. “We need the mayor to hear from the workers directly,” she said.

DOT is scheduled to hold a hearing on the rule change on May 29. Delivery workers will rally at City Hall on May 14.

  • Joe R.

    Has anyone tried to just fight any state and city laws making e-bikes illegal? Federal law says if it has 750 watts or less, and a top speed of 20 mph or less, it must be treated as a bicycle. There is no clause for states or cities to decide to “opt out” of that. My interpretation of the federal law is that e-bikes are legal to both own and use everywhere in the 50 states.

    That said, restaurants who have been affected by this crackdown should immediately stop delivering food to police stations or selling to police who pick it up. When the police can’t get take-out anywhere in the five boroughs they might rethink their actions.

  • Elizabeth F

    > “A moratorium allows us to push the pause button and get this right,”

    Delivery works, many with limited English or understanding of law, go to the local e-bike shop, buy the e-bike, and assume it’s legal. You and I do the same thing every time we buy a consumer product. We assume meat we buy at Stop&Shop has passed safety inspection. We assume our Apple laptop won’t spontaneously catch fire. We assume the local Chevy dealer is selling us cars that meet all applicable automobile safety regulations.

    Unfortunately, the same is not true for e-bikes in NYC. Pedal-assist e-bikes are legal in NYC, and in fact have been for a long time. And yet, the most prominent e-bike shops sell e-bikes that do not conform to these regulations, IN SPITE of NYC laws banning their sale. And what does the City do about it? An occasional $1000 fine, year after year, which the shops treat as the cost of doing business. Imagine if your Chevy dealer started selling cars without seatbelts or headlights, how long would that last? Imagine if the government — instead of putting the non-compliant Chevy dealer out of business and requiring them to fix the cars they’ve sold — simply started giving drivers $500 fines for driving in cars without seatbelts and taking their cars? How would that go down?

    Getting it right needs to start with effective policing of e-bike shops to ensure that only legal e-bikes are sold in NYC. NYC has laws that ban the sale of “motorized scooters”, but those laws are not enforced in any effective manner. Existing e-bike shops can sell legal pedal assist e-bike with little or no change to their business. No amount of changed policy by NYC will fix the problem, until NYC is able to effectively enforce this law. Going after the customers — who after all just want an efficient way to get from point A to point B — will never achieve the stated goals, while it certainly inflicts damage on innumerable lives.

    > Acting on a flaw in state law that makes e-bikes legal to own but illegal to ride..

    No, state law does not come in to play here… e-bikes are being confiscated based on a 2004 NYC ban on “motorized scooters”, which was supported by Transportation Alternatives.

    > Facing blowback from the crackdown, in April City Hall announced a DOT rule change that would legalize pedal-assist bikes

    Pedal-assist bikes were already legal because they were never subject to the 2004 ban on “motorized scooters.”

    > because Albany can’t be counted on to clear up the law.

    Albany is likely to pass a law explicitly allowing pedal assist e-bikes statewide. That law will have no effect in NYC, where pedal-assist e-bikes have always been legal. Albany is unlikely to ever legalize throttle-based e-bikes.

    > establish regulations to allow workers to convert throttle e-bikes to pedal-assist bikes

    Disable your throttle with epoxy glue. If the cop doesn’t understand that the first time, take it to a judge; things will be sorted out soon enough. You don’t need a regulation for that. Certainly easier than continuing to get your e-bike with functioning throttle impounded again and again.

    > Persephone Tan of the Asian American Federation said City Hall’s rule change announcement left workers unsure of what bikes would be allowed.

    Read the law banning “motorized scooters,” which is what’s been used to impound e-bikes and levy $500 fines. The key issue here is whether the bike can propel itself. A throttle allows that to happen. If the bike requires pedaling, then it is not a “motorized scooter” and therefore not banned. Nobody can be 100% sure of a law until it’s ruled on in court. But go ahead… disable your throttle, see what happens.

    > establish a financial aid program to help with conversions

    BPP has determined that delivery workers spend $100/mo on e-bike maintenance. Asking them to foot a one-time cost of $2 or less isn’t going to break the bank. Or better yet… pass a law requiring e-bike shops who originally sold the e-bikes to do any conversion necessary. Passing the law is the easy part, now let’s figure out how to hold the e-bike shops to it…

  • Elizabeth F

    > Has anyone tried to just fight any state and city laws making e-bikes illegal?

    Yes, that went to court, I believe around 2009, when someone’s e-bike was impounded. The defendant lost the case, setting the precedent that NYC’s 2004 ban on “motorized scooters” really is enforcable.

    Remember that “motorized scooter” covers more kinds of vehicles than delivery e-bikes. The ban was passed with the full support of Transportation Alternatives. It was never passed with the intention of giving delivery workers a hard time; but on the other hand, simply revoking it would bring us back to the situation in 2003, when there were some good reasons to pass the law in the first place.

  • Joe R.

    A partial revocation might make sense. Keep the law in place for anything gas-powered, regardless of power or top speed. Allow motorized electric scooters with power outputs under 750 watts and top speeds of 20 mph or less to be legally treated as bicycles. That keeps the law in place for most of the reasons it was originally passed. I remember those gas-powered scooters. Besides not being all that safe, some went 40 mph, and they all made a racket and stunk up wherever they passed. They should be banned from NYC.

    The partial revocation would also obviously fix the throttle issue you mentioned in your other post.

  • Elizabeth F

    What you say makes sense, but isn’t going to pass politically. Right or wrong, the political winds in NYC are willing to work with pedal assist but don’t want throttles. Some of this may be based on the mistaken assumption that throttles make the bike go faster; but so it is.

    But none of this tweaking of regulations will do much good if people can’t figure out how to enforce them. We’re in a situation right now where the shops can’t be bothered to comply with basic consumer product laws; the City hasn’t put any thought into how ridiculous they look in their inability to enforce those laws; and the people advocating for the customers haven’t taken even the simplest steps to compliance either. It makes me think that people on so many sides may be more interested in drama than solutions.

    I don’t think we can or should take seriously about changing the laws until we can find a way to enforce the laws we have. I would feel differently if all e-bikes were banned. But pedal assist e-bikes are legal and available, and not so different from e-bikes with throttles.

  • qrt145

    Was there ever a good reason? I wasn’t here back then, but from what I’ve read it sounds more like it was a moral panic.

  • Elizabeth F
  • qrt145

    So they banned a disparate range of technologies because of unruly kids. In other words, a moral panic.

    More importantly, “Transportation Alternatives supports the bill, Budnick said, but it also advocates the use of Segways and nonpolluting electric scooters on the streets.”

    I guess TA didn’t succeed at getting that second part of the message across. I would also support banning noisy and polluting two-stroke engines, but to lump electric motors into the same law was downright stupid.

  • AnoNYC

    I don’t know if this because of the eBike ban or what but I’ve noticed an increase in gasoline powered motorized bicycles and kick scooters. Kind of reminds of the 1990s.

    Though it’s likely that these are just additional motorized bicycles, not a switch.

  • MrLomez

    What is the long-term policy goal here? Am I alone in thinking that e-bikes should be embraced as traffic lane (not bike lane) vehicles that could be transformative? It seems like some think we are choosing between regular bikes and e-bikes. If we focus on moving e-bikes onto the car/truck infrastructure (with some basic registration – not licensing), that would open up the regular bike infrastructure. If e-bikes become really successful; displacing cars and reducing overall vehicle speeds, can we dare to dream that regular bikes could then merge into the traffic lanes alongside e-bikes and cars?

  • david

    I’m ok with ebikes if they follow the traffic rules and STAY OUT OF THE BIKE LANES.

  • Cain McDougal

    Why stay out of bike lanes? Electric bikes can regulate speed.

  • david

    Because they don’t regulate speed.

  • Chinabe88

    Yeah why stay out of bike lane. Electric bikes are still bikes.

  • manny

    just ban these bikes they are riding on sidewalks also not stopping for lights going the wrong way on streets, they don’t know right from wrong, how can you speed up a block when someone is crossing. Carlos Menchaca does nothing about Greenwood Heights, South Slope. a kid was just killed on 5 ave and 23rd st young boy dead from riding a bike to deliver food. get another way to deliver food no bikes period. these Chinese, indian, Mexican bike riders do not undertand English, one of them didn’t know he should not deliver food riding on sidewalks. I have a walker, just walking is hard enough, not needing a bike riding behind me when I am walking. they have no insurance if they hit me who do I sue? Carlos Menchaca Or our Mayor. every politician is going back on their word first they said no bikes now they want them. I wouldn’t vote anymore for politicians that go back on their word anymore.

  • DB

    Technically, pedal assisted e-bikes are in a way throttle e-bikes by pedaling (step on the pedals instead using thumb or twist). They both require human interaction.
    Both Class 1 (pedal assisted) and Class 2 (throttle) e-bikes should be
    legal since they have the same speed (20mph) and power (750W) limits.
    People who are lobbing for pedal assisted bikes only are businessmen who care about sales of a new product and don’t care about public opinion or safety.

    Pedal assisted bike is not a bike itself. It’s rather heavy, bulky, inefficient, not designed to be used without a battery and way more expensive. It’s like adding a new type of vehicle in your fleet. Majority of the cyclist cannot afford this luxury.

    Is this new law proposal something that NYC officials and NYPD by seizing e-bikes are proud of? This is called unwillingness (lawmakers) and discrimination. Way many more
    people complain against this actions. Are you going to listen to them?
    Shame NYC! Learn from progressive states and countries.

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